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Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign investment, which is widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth and productivity. The United States is by far the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Australia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the stock of U.S. FDI totaled USD 170 billion in January 2020. The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in 2005, establishes higher thresholds for screening U.S. investment for most classes of direct investment. While welcoming toward FDI, Australia does apply a “national interest” test to qualifying investment through its Foreign Investment Review Board screening process.

Various changes to Australia’s foreign investment rules, primarily aimed at strengthening national security, have been made in recent years. This continued in 2020 with the passage of the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which broadens the classes of foreign investments that require screening, with a particular focus on defense and national security supply chains. All foreign investments in these industries now require screening, regardless of their value or national origin. The Foreign Investment Reform legislation commenced in January 2021. Despite the increased focus on foreign investment screening, the rejection rate for proposed investments has remained low and there have been no cases of investment from the United States having been rejected in recent years, although some U.S. companies have reported greater scrutiny of their investments in Australia.

In response to a perceived lack of fairness, the Australian government has tightened anti-tax avoidance legislation targeting multi-national corporations with operations in multiple tax jurisdictions. While some laws have been complementary to international efforts to address tax avoidance schemes and the use of low-tax countries or tax havens, Australia has also gone further than the international community in some areas.

Australia has increased funding for clean technology projects and both local and international companies can apply for grants to implement emission-saving equipment to their operations. Australia adopted a net-zero emissions target at the national level in November 2021 although made no change to its short-term goal of a 26-28 percent emission reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels. Australia’s eight states and territories have adopted both net-zero targets and a range of interim emission reduction targets set above the federal target. Various state incentive schemes may also be available to U.S. investors.

The Australian government is strongly focused on economic recovery from the COVID-driven recession Australia experienced in 2020, the country’s first in three decades. In addition to direct stimulus and business investment incentives, it has announced investment attraction incentives across a range of priority industries, including food and beverage manufacturing, medical products, clean energy, defense, space, and critical minerals processing. U.S. involvement and investment in these fields is welcomed.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 18 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 25 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 170 billion https://www.bea.gov/data/
intl-trade-investment/direct-investment-
country-and-industry
 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 53,690 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Australia, the term used for a Commonwealth Government State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) is “government business enterprise” (GBE). According to the Department of Finance, there are nine GBEs: two corporate Commonwealth entities and seven Commonwealth companies. (See: https://www.finance.gov.au/resource-management/governance/gbe/ ) Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to markets, credit, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies. Public enterprises are not generally accorded material advantages in Australia. Remaining GBEs do not exercise power in a manner that discriminates against or unfairly burdens foreign investors or foreign-owned enterprises.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is general business awareness and promotion of responsible business conduct (RBC) in Australia. The Commonwealth Government states that companies operating in Australia and Australian companies operating overseas are expected to act in accordance with the principles set out in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and to perform to the standards they suggest. In seeking to promote the OECD Guidelines, the Commonwealth Government maintains a National Contact Point (NCP), the current NCP being currently the General Manager of the Foreign Investment and Trade Policy Division at the Commonwealth Treasury, who is able to draw on expertise from other government agencies through an informal inter-governmental network. An NCP Web site links to the “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas” noting that the objective is to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral sourcing practices. The Commonwealth Government’s export credit agency, EFA, also promotes the OECD Guidelines as the key set of recommendations on responsible business conduct addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries.

Australian companies have very few instances of human rights or labor rights abuses and domestic law prohibits such actions. In 2018 the Australian parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act, new legislation requiring large companies to assess risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and take action to limit these risks.

Australia began implementing the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2016.

Australia has ratified the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, and was a founding member of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association.

9. Corruption

Australia maintains a comprehensive system of laws and regulations designed to counter corruption. In addition, the government procurement system is generally transparent and well regulated. Corruption has not been a factor cited by U.S. businesses as a disincentive to investing in Australia, nor to exporting goods and services to Australia. Non-governmental organizations interested in monitoring the global development or anti-corruption measures, including Transparency International, operate freely in Australia, and Australia is perceived internationally as having low corruption levels.

Australia is an active participant in international efforts to end the bribery of foreign officials. Legislation exists to give effect to the anti-bribery convention stemming from the OECD 1996 Ministerial Commitment to Criminalize Transnational Bribery. Legislation explicitly disallows tax deductions for bribes of foreign officials. At the Commonwealth level, enforcement of anti-corruption laws and regulations is the responsibility of the Attorney General’s Department.

The Attorney-General’s Department plays an active role in combating corruption through developing domestic policy on anti-corruption and engagement in a range of international anti-corruption forums. These include the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group, and the United Nations Convention against Corruption Working Groups. Australia is a member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery and a party to the key international conventions concerned with combating foreign bribery, including the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention).

The legislation covering bribery of foreign officials is the Criminal Code Act 1995. Under Australian law, it is an offense to bribe a foreign public official, even if a bribe may be seen to be customary, necessary, or required. The maximum penalty for an individual is 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of AUD 2. million (approximately USD 1.6 million). For a corporate entity, the maximum penalty is the greatest of: 1) AUD 22.2 million (approximately USD 16.4 million); 2) three times the value of the benefits obtained; or 3) 10 percent of the previous 12-month turnover of the company concerned.

A number of national and state-level agencies exist to combat corruption of public officials and ensure transparency and probity in government systems. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) has the mandate to prevent, detect, and investigate serious and systemic corruption issues in the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, the CrimTrac Agency, and prescribed aspects of the Department of Agriculture.

Various independent commissions exist at the state level to investigate instances of corruption. Details of these bodies are provided below.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Australia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption and is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

Western Australia – Corruption and Crime Commission
86 St Georges Terrace
Perth, Western Australia
Tel. +61 8 9215 4888
https://www.ccc.wa.gov.au/ 

Queensland – Corruption and Crime Commission
Level 2, North Tower Green Square
515 St Pauls Terrace
Fortitude Valley, Queensland
Tel. +61 7 3360 6060
https://www.ccc.qld.gov.au/ 

Victoria – Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission
Level 1, North Tower, 459 Collins Street
Melbourne, Victoria
Tel. +61 1300 735 135
https://ibac.vic.gov.au 

New South Wales – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 7, 255 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel. +61 2 8281 5999
https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/ 

South Australia – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 1, 55 Currie Street
Adelaide, South Australia
Tel. +61 8 8463 5173
https://icac.sa.gov.au 

10. Political and Security Environment

Political protests (including rallies, demonstrations, marches, public conflicts between competing interests) form an integral, though generally minor, part of Australian cultural life. Such protests rarely degenerate into violence.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Australia’s unemployment rate peaked at 7.5 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic but had fallen to 4 percent by early 2022. Average weekly earnings for full-time workers in Australia were AUD 1,748 (approximately USD 1,290) as of November 2021. The minimum wage is set annually and is significantly higher than that of the United States, currently sitting at AUD 2033 (USD 15.00). Overall wage growth has been low in recent years, growing at approximately the rate of inflation.

The Australian Government and its state and territory counterparts are active in assessing and forecasting labor skills gaps across industries. Tertiary education is subsidized by both levels of governments, and these subsidies are based in part on an assessment of the skills needed by industry. These assessments also inform immigration policy through the various working visas and associated skilled occupation lists. Occupations on these lists are updated annually based on assessment of the skills most needed by industry.

Immigration has always been an important source for skilled labor in Australia. The Department of Home Affairs publishes an annual list of occupations with skill shortages to be used by potential applicants seeking to work in Australia. The visas available to applicants, and length of stay allowed for, differ by occupation. The main working visa is the Temporary Skills Shortage visa (subclass 482). Applicants must have a nominated occupation when they apply which is applicable to their circumstances, and applications are subject to local labor market testing rules. These rules preference the hiring of Australian labor over foreign workers so long as local workers can be found to fill the advertised job.

Most Australian workplaces are governed by a system created by the Fair Work Act 2009. Enterprise bargaining takes place through collective agreements made at an enterprise level covering terms and conditions of employment. Such agreements are widely used in Australia. A Fair Work Ombudsman assists employees, employers, contractors, and the community to understand and comply with the system. The Fair Work Act 2009 establishes a set of clear rules and obligations about how this process is to occur, including rules about bargaining, the content of enterprise agreements, and how an agreement is made and approved. Unfair dismissal laws also exist to protect workers who have been unfairly fired from a job. Australia is a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and has ratified 58 of the ILO’s conventions.

Chapter 18 of the AUSFTA agreement deals with labor market issues. The chapter sets out the responsibilities of each party, including the commitment of each country to uphold its obligations as a member of the ILO and the associated ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up (1998).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2021 $1.33 trillion 2020 $1.50 trillion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $170 billion 2019 $158 billion BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $98 billion 2019 $112 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises
-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 59% 2019 53% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html   

* Source for Host Country Data: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 790,655 100% Total Outward 627,680 100%
USA 151,171 19% USA 127,563 20%
Japan 101,508 13% UK 103,597 17%
UK 95,093 12% New Zealand 55,338 9%
Netherlands 40,660 5% Canada 26,500 4%
Canada 35,554 4% Singapore 13,934 2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Counselor Doug Sonnek
U.S. Embassy Canberra
21 Moonah Place, Yarralumla, ACT+61 2 6214 5759
SonnekDE@state.gov 

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future